By Johnbosco Agbakwuru, Calabar
As some Christian religious denominations in Cross River State were in church invoking the spirit of God to direct the affairs of the nation’s leaders so that they would also be sensitive to the plights of the people, having predicted that the 2012 will be brighter than the previous year, they came out with the stark reality that the federal government had inflicted hardship on them.
As if they regretted the prayers in their various churches for the nation’s leaders, most of them started reigning curses and abuses on the federal government for making them to start the year with pains and sufferings.
In the State, the first sign that showed that there was problem in the nation was the disappearance of taxi/bus drivers from the roads. Only few commercial vehicles were seen on the streets, while private vehicle owners who had gone to the few filling stations day could not believe the new price of pump price of a liter of fuel which rose from N65 to between N160 and N200 that day.
Those who came from different parts of the country to enjoy the Christmas holidays in the state were stranded in various motor parks as the transportation fare astronomically rose high. For instance, on January 2, people travelling from Ugep to Lagos paid N19, 000 against the previous N4, 000, while those travelling from the same place to Onitsha in Anambra state were made to N16, 000 against the initial N3, 000.
Reacting to the hardship the people were facing as a result of the subsidy removal, the Bishop of Calabar Diocese, Anglican Communion, Rt. Rev. Tunde Adeleye, said the action of government had thrown majority of Nigerians into a bumper poverty as transportation fare went up with over 400 per cent.
“This is sad news for the common man in Nigeria. It is a very unfortunate way of beginning a year. A year that has so much loaded things for us. When I look at the argument of government, I have sympathy for government. The government said it would use the money from the removal of subsidy to boost infrastructure. In the past eight years, price of a litre of fuel had been changed not less than 10 times, but all the monies collected did not affect the dilapidated roads in the country and cost of education”, he said.
He described the action of the federal government as a bitter pill and advised the government to suspend the removal of subsidy for now till when measures are put in place to cushion its effect on the people and that government should to continue to dialogue with stakeholders, create massive awareness among the population so that people will know what they are expecting and that government should assure Nigerians that the money that will come from the removal of fuel subsidy will be judiciously utilized.
Bishop Adeleye also advised that, “The removal of oil subsidy should be done gradually. I don’t think it is appropriate to remove the subsidy totally and suddenly the way they have done. An employer can have a heart attack over this matter.
“Just now it took us a hot debate to approve N18, 000 minimum wage no sooner that there is a pretentious approval of that N18, 000, they have suddenly brought this idea, it is very painful, it is embarrassing.
“It is collusion to the peace of the minds of individuals of this country. It is a perforation of our confidence in our minds and it is an onslaught to our economic stability. It is not benefitting any body prima facie,” he said.
Also commenting on the action of the federal government, Chairman of the State chapter of Action Congress of Nigeria, Hon. Cletus Obun, said what President Goodluck Jonathan had done was as tantamount to committing suicide and called on the people to rise up and stop those masquerading to be their leaders from punishing the common man the more.
Obun said, “Jonathan wants to commit suicide. He is insisting on importation of fuel instead of refining fuel in Nigeria. This is wrong economic policy, badly timed to punish Nigerians and he will get punished for it.
“The people should revolt and protest against this. Over half a million Nigerians are going to be punished. People returning from Christmas are stranded. Why can’t he tell us that he has reduced the fleet of his cars, presidential jet and security votes,” he said.
A lawyer and human right activist, Mr.Okoi Obono-Obla, described the action of the president as wicked and anti-Christian, adding that it showed to the Christian community that lost their persons in the Christmas bomb attack that the president has no feeling for them if he should remove subsidy when many people were struggling to return to their working places after the festivity.
He said, “This fuel subsidy removal will definitely sound the death knell of this regime if care is not taken. How can the government choose this period to remove subsidy? This government has removed subsidy several times since 1999 without fulfilling any of its promises to cushion its effect on the masses.”
On his part, State Chairman of Hope Democratic Party, HDP, Dr. Theo Onyuku, described the removal of petroleum subsidy by the federal government as an act of terrorism against the poor masses of the country and has promised to mobilize its members to join in the planned protest by the Nigeria Labour Congress on Monday.
State chairman of NLC Comrade Nyambi Njom, said that the planned strike by the union on Monday over the removal of the subsidy, will be total if the federal government fails to bring down the price of fuel to N65.